mother and baby

This week’s Torah portion is “Toldot” (Genesis 25:19-28:9) and in it we read about  Jacob and Esau, the dizygotic twins born to Isaac and Rebecca.

Although not recommended (Do not try this at home!), Jacob and Rebecca had favorites. The Torah tells us that Isaac favored Esau “because he was a hunter” and Rebecca favored Jacob because he was a scholar.

We are informed about this favoritism in a somewhat strange manner. Regarding Isaac, it says that he “loved” Esau, but regarding Rebecca, is says that she “loves” Jacob. One is in past tense, and one is in the present tense. Why the difference?

It is explained that herein lies that difference between the secular world and the Torah world. From the Torah’s perspective, a person is evaluated by what he is, while in the non-Jewish world, namely, the “real world,” a person is evaluated by what he does.

When we ask a child what he (or she) wants to be when he grows up, we get answers like “fireman”, “pilot,” and “doctor.” Answers such as these are inaccurate, if not outright false. The question was what he wants “to be,” not what he wants “to do.” This is the sad reality in the “real world” – a person’s importance, value, or contribution to the world is based upon what one does for a living. Indeed, the first question one is usually asked when meeting someone for the first time is, “what do you do?” If the answer indicates that your occupation is something important, then you are considered to be important. However, if your occupation is more menial in nature, well, then you’re not too important. In other words, you are what you do.

This is not the Torah’s philosophy.

With this mind, we can now better understand the wording of the verse, and why one word is written in past tense and the other in present tense. Esau represented the “non-Torah” world. In that world, you are as good as what you do, and when you’re done, you’re done. But the Torah approach is that every person has tremendous value and potential regardless of one’s occupation. Jacob was the scholar, which, by extension, means that he worked on himself, he feared God, he performed mitzvot. Rebecca loved (“loves”) Jacob for who he was, not what he did. It makes no difference what such a person does for a living. It’s the character traits and pursuits that are important, not what pays the bills. This is the best type of person out there.

If only everyone were like that.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.